Casey & The Comrades. Photo by Neil Peek.

Casey Cranford, saxophone and EWI extraordinaire known to most from Big Something is up to something special. His space fusion band, Casey & The Comrades have just unloaded their studio debut, entitled Kidz These Daze on Bandcamp, and it oozes pure refreshment.The record moves its way through ten songs, each of which building upon the last. This album is not  what some may expect, in the absolute best way. The band is a quintet, born of Greensboro NC, and by the looks of things they’ve no intention of stopping. In an era when true originality is so hard to come by, Casey & The Comrades have delivered an organic gem. Note for note, this thing goes the distance. I sat down with Casey and we talked about the record, the band, his role, this time in history, and more.     

Bones: Casey, my friend, thanks for sitting down with me.

Casey: Of course man, thank you for having me.

B: Firstly, I want to take this back to the beginning and talk about the origins of this group for those reading who may just be getting introduced to the band through this record. Can you talk a little about the formation of the group and also how it may be different than Big Something?

Casey Cranford. Photo by Neil Peek.

C: Surely. It originated when I was sitting around at home when we were off tour with Big Something a couple years ago and simply needed some work. I actually hit you up and wanted to do a show, just something fun, make a little money. I had been playing with Julian Sizemore a bit, and my old friend Jeremy Fountain, who had played with us at weekly jams for a long time. I was just thinking about getting something fun and instrumental together. So you and I put a show together near the end of 2017, and not long after that I was reached out to by Bill Stevens, who of course goes on to record the album, and he brought me out to a gig with Roosevelt Collier and Billy Cardine [from Acoustic Syndicate] and a bunch of other really killer musicians. I just had a great experience playing with them, and Bill was doing this bass keys so I thought to myself, “this is really cool, I want to get him together with Julian and get double keyboards going on,” and so that’s how we started. Before we knew it, we started taking it pretty seriously, and Julian and you guys told me about Will Trentini and I went to see his band, The Drove at an Uncle John’s Bone show. I kind of knew then that this could be a really cool hit for what we’re going for. Eventually we went through some changes and we brought Ben [Vinograd] into the band as the permanent drummer. So yeah we started playing covers and writing material and started playing shows whenever we could. Shows that made sense.

B: So you mentioned Bill Stevens, and he plays bass tones on the record, there’s no bass player in the band, was this the case from the start as well?

C: Actually Keith Allen played the first Comrades set, and then Bill stepped in and played bass tones through the keys, which is very unique.

B: Certainly. I think what is cool about the bass tones on the organ is that it’s very intriguing and it creates a mystique for the listener and watcher. The average listener or watcher, they don’t know that’s possible, so it’s really cool to look at.

C: Yes exactly, and it’s so cool on stage too. 

B: Can you touch on how this is different from Big Something or how you find your role different at all?

C: My role as a composer is different in this group in that it’s more of an instrumental project until we started really making these songs up. Bill wrote some lyrics, I wrote some lyrics, maybe my first song lyrics that actually became a song. So that was pretty huge for me, that track is called “Walk.” It’s just different. It’s just different music. Big Something is more of a rock outlet, which is really cool and it’s highly collaborative. This project, Comrades, is highly collaborative in a different way.

Casey Cranford and Bill Stevens. Photo by Neil Peek.

B: And one can tell when you’re listening to this record that you guys are close. As musicians and as friends.

C: Yeah, I mean those are definitely some of my best friends. Bill has really become a very close friend and mentor as well. In a lot of ways. I’ve learned a lot about theory from him, and just listening. But we’re always constantly learning as musicians.

B: So “Walk” was your first time really writing and publishing lyrics?

C: Yes, and it was kind of crazy. I was riding in the tour van with Big Something and it was like I just had this I don’t know, I just felt like I have to write this right now and it was just a poem about nature. And I did it and completed it in about 10 or 15 minutes and I was just like man I’ll send this to Bill and he might think it’s cool. And he got right back to me and wrote music to it. And we started working on it when I got off tour. And yes, he did make a few suggestions and we altered a few lyrics. And we collaborated on the music, but he wrote the changes.

B: I Wanted to touch on one piece of song history on the record, and that’s “H1N1.” Which, when you listen to the album as it’s meant to be, from top to bottom, “H1N1” is an instrumental one, and it, for me as a listener, is a climax point. That’s the only song on this album that has a more dated history right?

C: Yes, that’s from my old band, The Brand New Life, a Greensboro band. That was one of our first, well, one of our first batch of songs that we wrote. And I remember working on it with Daniel Yount, Seth Barden and Walter Fancourt, my old bandmates. I just remember going for this vibe of, you know, a 5/4 meter with a bit of middle eastern feel and sound. And Jared Mankoff, he wrote the explosive part towards the end, the rock section. When we wrote this there was the H1N1 virus happening, and we named it after that. I started reworking it for the Comrades, and now here we are releasing it as this Coronavirus is really affecting the world. So it just seemed like a really crazy coincidence or something.

Julian Sizemore. Photo by Neil Peek.

B: It is very relevant. Life has a way of being so ironic. I want to move on to the process of recording this record. Where it was done and the process of it. We’ve talked about the formation and playing shows and some of the writing, but once you go into the studio with this new band, things can be very different.

C: Absolutely. It was different. We had a batch of songs and a couple of them were never, I don’t think even played live, but we just did five or six takes of each song, and we pushed ourselves to get the best take we could. I’d be getting exhausted there and Bill would really push me to get the best possible stuff in the moment. I’m so thankful he did too.

B: And Bill recorded these?

C: Bill recorded these at his studio in Winston Salem, Ovation studios. Bill really pushed me as I said, and I know this is true for the rest of us as well, to keep playing until we produced the best possible music that we could. Even when we were overdubbing I would do like seven, eight, nine takes of a certain solo. There was so much experimentation with improvising and feeling and listening, and Bill is a masterful mixer, and listener, so he was able to find amazing stuff from each of us, and compose it and mix it into this piece that became the record.

B: We just mentioned the virus, recording this album happened much of the time when the country was under quarantine. Now the recording started before the virus set in is that correct?

C: It started in the very beginning of the year, in January yes.

B: Talk about what it was like as the quarantine set in, did it shift your focus at all, could you concentrate more on this as your touring schedule stopped?

C: Man it was all so bizarre, as everyone in the world is feeling right now I think. Everything is in this bizarre state. We recorded the initial tracks as I said at the start of the year. We recorded as much as possible and then Ben and I had to go tour with Big Something for about a month and a half. As soon as we got off tour, almost to the day, the Coronavirus hit, and we were locked down. A lot of the album was talked about over the phone for a while until we actually felt safe to physically get back out to the studio and get back to it, but during that time Bill continued to work on what we had gotten already and on the recording as a whole. So yea man, to return to the initial question, it really affected us. It slowed things down a lot but I think it turned out to be a really good thing. We took our time, we really got to consider what we were doing and had the time to go back and listen to the stuff, consider how we could make it better.

Ben Vinograd. Photo by Neil Peek.

B: And now we/re amidst this social justice revolution as we witness this racial crisis unfold. I know you have dedicated this record to peace, it’s peace music. Is there anything you intend to say with this album, is there a specific message you intend to send?

C: The message is for peace, environmentalism, and simply taking care of one another. Enriching community, family, and your neighbors. It’s all just something to think about. This is a highly creative album, thus the message can be interpreted by listeners also, as music should be. My message is a peace message.

B: The record was just released, but I know that on June 19 Bandcamp is doing a promotion. What is that?

C: Yea, we’re going to join them in trying to raise some money for a non-profit that benefits and aids some of this social justice you referred to. We’re still figuring out exactly which one we will donate to, but Bandcamp is donating their revenue shares for the day to the NAACP Defense Fund, and we may join them in that or we may opt for something specific to the movement here in Greensboro, but whatever we do we will inform everyone of it. It may end up being GSO Mutual Aid, which is an organization benefiting Coronavirus victims, victims of police brutality, and bail bonds for those who have gotten arrested during the protests.

B: Casey, do you have a favorite piece on this album? Does the album tell a story?

C: The album tells a few stories, and as I said some of them are up to interpretation for the listeners. Do I have a favorite? Man that is always tough to decide because the songs are kind of like our children. Walk” I think is one that is very special to me and very emotional. It reminds me of getting back into nature, and experiencing nature and considering all that it provides for us. That one is really special for me.

B: An array of guests appear on this record, some really special ones, and some that folks may not expect. Talk a little about the guests and were you surprised by how many of them wanted to collaborate? Did any of them humble you?

C: Oh of course man, it humbled me to a point beyond words. I don’t know if there is a word that even captures the degree of humility I felt with these guests hopping on. Of course Billy Cardine whom I mentioned earlier, Nick MacDaniels who is in Big Something with me, Becca Stevens, who is Bill’s sister, she’s one of my favorite singer/songwriters in the entire world. To hear her voice on a song that I helped write was just incredible. Paul Hanson the bassoonist, man I remember watching him on my old Bela Fleck and the Flecktones DVD, “Live at the Quick” all the time. Back then I was so blown away by his playing and his use of effects on bassoon, and he is another contact that Bill had. Even saying that outloud knowing he contributes is just so humbling. It’s beautiful to hear. Nate Werth from Snarky Puppy and Ghost Note is on there too. Those are some of my favorite bands man and again just to think about that and say it outloud, I’m blown away.

B: I remember you telling me about some of these guys being on it, after they had given their confirmation, I remember thinking to myself “wow, this is really happening.”

C: Oh man me too, and going on just a little bit, listeners are going to hear some hip hop on this record as well. We have TommyBlaze336 on a track called “ExciteBikeRack.” He is from a collective called The Good Dope out of Greenville, SC. He is a Greensboro guy originally and someone I’ve known for years, he’s always been a really cool guy and a creative force in his own right. On that same track we brought in a turntablist named Jodi Kimball that does some fantastic stuff.

B: That track really melds together so well, I love it.

C: Yea that’s another one of my favorites I think, the blend of styles that came out on that track really blew me away.

B: Agreed. This stuff is going to stun some people in the best way possible I think.

C: I hope so.

B: Going forward, what are your plans for this group? Do you guys plan to play shows when appropriate, will there be a stream, do you plan to write more music with these guys?

C: Oh yes. Writing more is certainly one of the next steps to the progression of this band, this band is not a one off by any means. This group is sticking around, of course individually we have other projects like Big Something and The Mantras and such, but I love these guys and we intend to continue to make music. You mentioned a stream, and we actually are planning on doing one to celebrate this release. We’re going to do it at Ovation, where we recorded, and when those details are available we will make sure everyone has them. Right now it is a digital release, but we have gotten requests for vinyls and some CDs, so we will get those done as well. I mentioned our intent to donate some of these proceeds and we’ll do that with possible revenue from the stream. There are a lot of people struggling right now and I feel such a strong duty to give back what I can.

B: Sounds great man, on behalf of our readers and listeners everywhere, thank you buddy.

C: Absolutely man. I hope people enjoy the record!

Kidz These Daze is available right now on Bandcamp, soon to be followed with availability on all major streaming platforms. You can find the record and more information about Casey & The Comrades at the links below. Their record is a ray of light that cuts through the walls of tradition. After you listen once, I hope that like me, you’re completely hooked. Please follow the links below for purchase and social media information. You’ll hear from me soon my friends, until then, stay right here with The Jamwich and as always, keep listening!

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